As a scientist who strives to provide public access to science, I applaud the wonderful article by Lori Kozlowski about science and society in the Los Angeles Times on August 22, 2009, and wish to contribute some thoughts.
Contrary to what some scientists and some non-scientists stridently proclaim, I believe science and religion are compatible – both are organized efforts to find Truth. Best go to science to find the distance to the Sun, the age of the Earth, or similar questions whose answers are numbers. But science has not, and in my view never will, determine whether or not God exists, what is the purpose of human life, or to what ethical code good people should aspire. Science is incapable of answering such very important questions.
Science is not an obscure cult practiced by estranged people. Science is simply the extension of everyone’s innate curiosity. Children continually ask Why? They are born wanting to learn about and understand their world. Scientists are just people who never stopped asking Why?
Science should be for everyone. Just as you don’t have to be a great musician to appreciate great music, you don’t have to master complex math and technical jargon to appreciate the exciting discoveries of modern science. We live in the Golden Age of Science – more has been discovered in our lifetimes than in the entire prior history of mankind. We have found nature’s smallest parts and have seen out to the edge of the universe and back almost to the beginning of time. These exciting discoveries can be presented so that everyone can participate. I have given science talks at a wide range of venues from major universities to the Latina club of a local middle school. Audiences everywhere and of all ages have the same desire to understand more about their world. They just need information they can digest.
Science has not just increased our academic knowledge, but has also added to our wealth and welfare. A century ago, life expectancy in the U.S. was 47 years. In a single year, 40 million people died of the flu worldwide. Only 6% of Americans graduated from high school, and there were no iPods, DVDs, cellphones, internet, GPS, lasers, radio, movies, or television. In 100 years, our life expectancy has increased to 78 years, and of Americans over 25, 85% now graduate from high school and 27% earn college degrees. Most of these improvements are due to the advance of science and technology.
Looking forward, science is how we will reduce our dependency on foreign oil, mitigate pollution and solve global warming. It behooves the public to better understand science, so they can more knowledgeably participate in determining what sort of world we will leave to our children and grandchildren.